Archive | Flowers and Plants

Annual, perennial and interesting flowers with advice on culture, information, tips and recommended varieties

Miniature Pines are Smaller than Dwarf Pines

What is a Miniature Pine

  • Small pine trees have been grown and sold as Dwarf plants for years but true miniatures are raised as clones from potentially larger species.
  • Miniatures are classified as such if they will not exceed 40cm height or width over 10 years. Experts recommend exhibition quality plants should not grow more than 25mm per annum ie. 25cm in 10 years.
  • True miniatures are clones of other pines.
  • They may  grow as spontaneous sports, as bud mutations or seed faults .
  • Witches brooms creating miniatures pines are dense growths that result from virus infection or insect damage.
  • Bonsai are restricted growth plants and not true miniatures.

Miniature Pine Varieties

  • Pinus mugo Donna’s mini 20x30cm cushion form
  • Pinus mugo Mini Mini  globose habit 20×25 cm
  • Pinus mugo Suzi 30x30cm spreading with orange-broan new growth
  • Pinus mugo Zwergkugel 35x35cm
  • Pinus mugo unicinata Jezek 20x30cm  good cushion form
  • Pinus mugo Bonsai Kramer 10x20cm
  • Pinus syvestris Marshall  30x25cm
  • Pinus strobus
  • Pinus uncinata
  • There are many other species that sport or produce miniatures but pines are consistent favourites.

Dwarf Species include;

  • Dwarf conifers are at least twice the size of miniatures after 10 years. As the sign above shows many conifers are sold as Dwarf plants
  • The pine family includes Dwarf White Pine, Dwarf Swiss Mountain Pine,
  • Many conifers sold as Dwarf are just slow growers and will continue to grow into sizable trees given time and favourable conditions.
  • Dwarf Lebanon Cedar, Dwarf Alberta Spruce,  Dwarf Japanese Juniper.

 Collecting and Displaying Miniature Conifers

  • Miniature conifer is the catch all name for the smallest of the conifer family.
  • The size makes them ideal for use in miniature landscape plantings, alpine or scree gardens, troughs and pots.
  • Miniatures are also popular for exhibition purposes.
  • Restricting the size of a pot can cause the needles on lower branches to fall
  • Top growth shouldn’t extend over the pot. Repot as the conifer grows until you have a pot 36cm or so. There after the miniature pine may be happier in the ground .
  • The main shape and forms of miniature pines are conical, globus, pyramidal or spreading.

Growing and Cultivating Miniature Conifers

  • Miniature conifers are never likely to outgrow their situation.
  • Pot miniatures into a compost of equal amounts of John Innes no.2, grit and composted bark.
  • The aim is a tight bun with closely displayed needles and a compact display. Fertiliser is only needed occasionally and in frugal quantities.
  • Thatch or dead needles should be removed from inner branches to avoid die-back.
  • Shallow, plastic pots are lighter to move around and should not harm the plants.
  • Prevention is better than cure so treat for vine weevil and dose annually with a fungicide.
  • Top dress annually with compost.
  • Outdoor specimens can be trimmed in spring by candling (removing new extension growth) to retain shape.
  • Plants can be grafted onto clean longer stemmed rootstock but why would you want a tall miniature.
  • Side grafting on to compatible rootstock can be done in January and then kept frost free.


Miniature conifers and especially pines are worth growing in a cold greenhouse or outdoors. There is a range of shapes and colours to cultivete and a good supply is available from Kenwith Nursery growing miniature and dwarf conifers for the last thirty five years.

Kenwith Conifer Nursery


Mahonias make me Prickly

Every winter I am on the Oregon trail for garden scent. My best hope is the Mahonia (aka Oregon grape) which grows very well in various shady parts of my garden and flowers profusely in winter. Regrettably I find the much acclaimed scent is hard to detect but smell is not the only thing that gets up my nose! The rigid leaves have several vicious points on  the arrayed leaves and catch me out many times a year. This is partly due to a 6 foot shrub near my Japanese garden path. I don’t know what made me think Mahonia was suitable in a Japanese garden but there you go. As a deterrent to uninvited visitors the prickles make it as good as Holly and a close second to Berberis.

The stems or branches are an interesting yellow colour but only get seen when pruning.  I prune or trim regularly which aims to keep older plants in shape. Other maintenance is minimal as no critters would make a meal of the leathery, spiked leaves.

Mahonia Oregan Grape

Berries that give Mahonia the Oregon Grape name

What the Experts Say

M. japonica is an erect medium-sized evergreen shrub with large, spined, leathery pinnate leaves and small, fragrant light yellow flowers in spreading or drooping sprays from late autumn to early spring, followed by blue-black berries ‘RHS’

These woodlanders will appreciate a mulch in early spring and a tidy up underneath the main stem.

Selected by the Sunday gardener from over 50 species Mahonia popular cultivars  include

  1. Mahonia x media  ‘Charity’,   ‘Winter sun’ and ‘Lionel Fortescue’  These have large upright yellow, scented flowers. ‘Charity’ can be grown in a north facing spot which makes it a good shrub for a difficult growing area.
  2. Mahonia fortunei smaller 1.2m high 1 m wide which flowers in the autumn
  3. Mahonia aquifolium  known as the Oregon Grape is very hardy   flowering in March and April followed by blue black berries.
  4.  Mahonia  x media Underway AGM a tall grower reaching up to 3m with large erect spikes of fragrant yellow flowers in the winter.
  5. Mahonia japonica a mid sized shrub growing up to 2m.
  6. One to look out for is a new red flowering Mahonia called Mahonia nitens ‘Cabaret’ .
  7. Gardeners Tips    Berry Bearing Bushes for Birds
  8. G Tips  Mahonia  Attractive Spiky shrubs

Uses for Mahonia Oregon Grape

  • The small purplish-black fruits, which are quite tart and contain large seeds can be eaten in small quantities.
  • The fruit are sometimes used to make jelly or mixed with berries from Gaultheria.
  • Oregon-grape juice can be fermented to make wine
  • The inner bark and larger stems and roots of Oregon-grape yields a yellow dye.
  • The berries can produce a purple dye.
  • The foliage is sometimes used by florists for greenery which functions like holly as the leaves remain rigid.
  • If consumed in large quantities berries can cause vomiting, lowered blood pressure, lethargy, and other ill effects. Consumption is not recommended but tinctures and essences are available on the internet.

Do We Pay Too Much for Seeds

The seed catalogue season is in full swing and I paused to consider their value to gardeners.

In Praise of Seed Catalogues

  • Good catalogues contain lots of information in an accessible and digestible form.
  • Photographs of ‘best in class’ purport to show what will result from sowing and growing the seeds. Given poetic license for a bit of photoshopping and retouching you can get a fairish idea of what to expect.
  • Many catalogues have extensive selections often with new varieties thrown in.
  • A new trend with catalogues has a ‘Marmite’ appeal as plug plants, grafts, equipment, shrubs and other offers now often take up more space than seeds.
  • The best reason I can find is the browsing facility that you can do from your own armchair. It beats standing at racks in garden centers.

We Gardeners are Paying

  • All the glossy printing and expensive photography has to come from gardeners pockets in some shape or form.
  • Too many copies are distributed, I have had 3 catalogues from Dobies (Owned by Tesco who also own Suttons seeds) with minor differences in content or cover and there is still the cost of postage and distribution.
  • Prices and thus value seem to have drifted adversly over the last few years. No more so than reduced packet quantity, postage or minimum order price.
  • Seed packets designed for retail display are not cheap and to compensate the number of seeds is often very sparse. It is worth considering buying plants rather than risk low germination and seed packet yield.
  • Branding and marketing are now significant costs for most companies and we customers pay. Another good reason for grow your own and save good seed.Seed catalogues

My Seed Suppliers 2018

Wallis Seeds are a small family run business and have been selling seeds for over 30 years. Their aim is to provide good quality seed, in good quantities, at a good price. The packets do not have expensive colour pictures!’ The mono colour catalogue seems to have been discontinued but the supply of seed by weight and or varied quantities is still an economic plus. I have kept my old catalogue for reference as basics do not change all that rapidly.

Another of my favorite catalogues comes from Chiltern Seeds ‘full 2018 catalogue, including the Vegbook, with many exciting new varieties, will be available, as ever, around Christmas 2017. You  automatically receive a copy if you have placed an order in 2016 or 2017,’

Kings seeds are specialists in vegetable seeds and supplies also acting as wholesale suppliers to allotment societies and commercial growers. (They are related to Suffolk Herbs another specialist seed outfit.)

Please do not forget Thompson & Morgan whose sales from this site provide a small commission to help defray our costs.

Marshalls and Unwins are brands both owned by Westland.  Mr Fothergill’s also owns DT Brown, Woolman’s, The Sweet Pea Company and Johnsons but I don’t know who owns them. One way or another we are all paying for the seed trade and their profits.

International Seed Organisations

Dow, Monsanto, Bayer, Basf, Dupont and Syngenta are major chemical conglomerates that supply agriculture. Japanese companies are growing market share.

The “Big 6” have entered into a number of agreements to share patented, genetically engineered seed traits with each other, such as herbicide tolerance and expression of insecticidal the businesses within the industry consolidate.

Other Gardeners Tips

50 Best Seed companies

Top 10 vegetable seed companies


Lifting Your Tree & Shrubs Crown

Giving trees what I call the ‘Royal Chop’ is not as drastic as it sounds. It is one way of controlling the low growing branches that restrict light, create unwanted shade  and generally get in the way. The technical term may be to ‘Lift the Crown’ which has the result of leaving the lower trunk clear of branches and letting the growth starting at an acceptable height.

My problems  started when I couldn’t reach the upper part of the conifer to keep it in trim. The same energy is going into the trees growth without an outlet at the lower end so it gets a bit wider and a lot taller. I pruned out the lower branches leaving about one third of the trunk height bare.

Had I taken out the growing point at the top of the tree the spread of lower branches would have been far wider and been the opposite of what I wanted. Conifers trimmed in spring were not the best subject to learn, on broad-leafed trees trimmed in autumn or winter may have worked better.

What the Experts Say

‘Crown lifting is the removal of the lowest branches to a specified height and where possible should be achieved by removal of smaller branches so to minimise stress to the tree. The crown of the tree should not be lifted to a point which is more than 1/3 of the overall tree height (i.e. leaving 2/3 of the trees height as crown).’ Crown thinning and crown reduction are variations that are also  designed to change the extent of the canopy.  Nick Organ Tree maintenance

‘Crown lifting on older, mature trees should be restricted to secondary branches to minimise stress and reduce recovery time. It is possible to crown lift a tree too much. Chaffin Tree Surgery

Shrubs Suitable for Crown Lifting
Acer palmatum and Acer japonica
Bamboos, such as Phyllostachys
Conifers, such as Chamaecyparis, Juniper, Pine and Yew
Euonymus japonica
Ligustrum (Privet)
Pittosporum tenuifolium
Prunus laurocerasus (Cherry laurel)
Rhododendron and azalea 2012

This is my Copper Beech that has been lollipoped over a few years, in fact it is regularly licked into shape.


African Violet Experience

Afre years of dipping in and out I bought 2 Saintapaulia better known as African Violets (AV) in December 2016 and managed to kill one within months. This  12 month survivor has been in flower continuously ever since.
The plant is happy in a 4″ globular ceramic pot which has a sump to water from underneath. Through my unconscious neglect the plant has to wait until the leaves start to flop before I remember to water. They quickly plump up after a drink but after the first death I have made sure the Violet does not stand in water ‘damping off’ the roots.

After a year I have discovered some old special African Violet (AV) fertiliser and as a birthday treat the survivor has been given a weak solution in the last watering. The quick draining compost contained enough goodness to last until now. I don’t think they are heavy feeders. Too much feed would make the leaves soft and prone to rot.

As you can see the AV is kept on a windowsill facing east and except on one exceptionally hot sunny day there has been no scorching or burning.

Dead and dying flowers should be pinched off to make room for new growth. There is one ready to go on this plant and an untidy old stem in the background. I prefer the finger and thumb pinching method rather than ‘pulling’ the offending item to keep the plant roots firmly in the compost.

This AV has soft hairy leaves and you can see the hairs on the edge of the petals below.

What The Experts Say

African Violets were discovered in German East Africa by Walter von St Paul- Illaire  after whom the six  species (and numerous sub-species) were named. They were first brought to Europe  in the 1880’s and subsequently the USA where as a subtropical species they were cultivated for indoor or greenhouse use.

Adequate light and a  temperature of 60-75 degrees are the keys to successful flowering and a long season. 50% relative humidity is an ideal but I wouldn’t stress myself if this is not always achieved.

Plants will grow well in small pots or pans  2½” -4″. Only older larger plants need a pot of up to 6″

The best plants look symmetrical with a single crown. Side shoots can be pinched out and used as cuttings. Windowsill grown plants need regular turning and dust can be washed off as long as the center crown is dried.

Seed sowingg and vegetative propagation are one of the joys of AV growing. Leaf cuttings with at least 1″ of stem should be broken off the main stem without leaving a stub. Select a stem that is not one of the oldest, flopping over the edge of the pot, nor the youngest central crown stem. Cut the end obliquely and allow to dry out for 24 hours.(I do not bother with rooting hormone). Cuttings can be rooted in water alone but I prefer potting in a mixture including peat, sand and vermiculite. Keep in warm, light,  humid conditions for up to 3 months. Side shoots, offsets and even flowered stems can be rooted as cuttings. It is possible to divide a plant with several crowns by knocking off the soil and gently pulling apart to leave a bit of root on each bit when repotting.

Special tip. AV are not prone to infestations of insects though poor husbandry may give lie to that statement. One exception is the Cyclamen mite that can move from an infected Cyclamen plant so keep the away from your AV’s.

Gardenerstips including advice on watering

Books from my Collection

African Violets Clements Tony
African Violets and related plants Wall Bill
African violets growing in the home Milsted Muriel
African Violets How to grow Rector Carolyn

Books from Amazon

Book Cover
The African Violet Handbook (Paperback) by Tony Clements

Book Cover
The African Violet The Complete Guide

Book Cover
The African Violet Handbook

I have just bought some African Violet seeds from a company called ‘SunshinebyDung’,  appropriate or what? Eventually I ordered 12 packets from China so I will wait and see what happens as they pass through import control or not as the case may be.


A Late sowing of Kale


Here in Oxford, we tried sowing some Kale in the middle of August.

We sowed some directly into pots and as an after thought sowed some directly into the ground.

Going on holiday for two weeks after sowing seeds is always asking for trouble, and by the time we got back they had shriveled up and were only good for the compost heap. However, the seeds sown direct into the ground did quite well. A few got eaten by slugs but a couple grew fast enough to escape their clutches.

The location in the garden wasn’t the best, with shade from Conifer and other trees limited the amount of direct sun, as Autumn progressed, they were lucky to get one hour of sun per day. Yet, despite little direct sunlight, they kept growing and soon started to encroach on each other. We started picking some leaves from the bottom of the plants and got a few meals out of them.

As the nights shortened, growth slowed down almost to a stop and the Kale pests seemed to be taking out more than they were able to grow. I think later damage came from pigeons or the like, it doesn’t look like the work of slugs – too big and neat.

Anyway, they look OK, in the mostly empty border and were a good ground-cover as we await a new fence. The last few straggly plants will be harvested and will make the odd meal or two.

But, for late sowing, they didn’t get enough sunlight to really get going – even the richest soil can’t compensate for lack of light. But, next year, we’ll pick a better spot and hope that they really take off. We may also try a later sowing because Kale is a good plant for providing fresh veg through the winter months. However, we may have to take pest control a bit more seriously which will mean netting to stop both butterflies and pigeons – so maybe not in the flower border.

Here’s a useful post on growing organic Kale.

Related posts at Gardenerstips


My Mistakes with Chrysanthemums

If a plant is worth growing it is worth growing well and this applies no more so than to Chrysanthemums. I have said recently that Chrysanthemums will repay the gardeners attention with a productive crop of flowers for the home, show bench or garden.

My Practical Mistakes

  • Plant and forget will not work very well with most Chrysanthemums, they need some TLC. For several years I under performed by plonking new plants into situe and then leaving them alone to fend for themselves.
  • Chrysanthemums growing in pots quickly become top heavy and are prone to being blow over. I lost may good stems by letting this happen. It taught me that the stems are brittle or at least prone to break where a new stem meets the main shoot.
  • Failing to understand the variety left me treating low growing ‘mums’ like large decorative varieties. A case of one size not fitting all.
  • Once you get a good bloom do not get it wet & soggy or it will rot from the head like the photograph above.
  • Neither overcrowd nor grant too much space if you want a good display.
  • I am renown for poor staking of plants including Chrysanthemums. It is worth the time and effort.
  • Strongly growing plants are capable of surviving many pests so I do not spray. This year I have had enough vases full of flowers that some critters have been brought into the house. They left droppings, pollen beetle or other dross that a timely spray would have prevented.
  • I planted several good plants in virtually neat horse manure. As it started to rot it fed the slugs and microbes not the Chrysanthemums.
  • Even if I remember to stop  Chrysanthemums in time I usually forget to pinch out excess buds to encourage fewer but better blooms.



Single Chrysanthemum Action

With my new found enthusiasm for Chrysanthemums I thought I would have a day reviewing my gardening performance, sorting out my Chrysanthemums in the greenhouse and planning actions to improve my show of next year.

Some of the best flowers in November have been a range of single Chrysanthemums in a variety of colours. The lemon shown above has had numerous stems (30+) on a single plant with limited branching or spray clustering. The stems are 30 inches high and have been self supporting. I have grown them outdoors in 12″ pots and they have filled the space without problem. The one greenhouse plant in a pot dried out too quickly and the bottom leaves browned off during November when the flowers have been at their best.

A bit more like the traditional daisy like flowers the light mauve or lilac flowers were robust plants that received little care. I now note that I should still have’ stopped’ the plants twice during april and june. Another lesson for next year!

Single Flowered Range

  • A reminder that the term ‘single’ is not related to the number of flowers on a stem but to the arrangement of a single row of petals (or ray florets) around the central disc. A semi double may have 5 or more rays of petals but the disc will still be visible. AKA Daisy-eye.
  • I will definitely grow them again.
  • I bought the plants from J Parker but need to look up the name of the varieties. (Why don’t I keep a record at the time or better still label and remember what I planted).
  • I hope to get some cuttings from stock plants in spring.
  • The plants lasted in the house and looked good in a mixed arrangement as the leaves were open and delicate in appearance.
  • Colours included lemon, yellow, red, deep purple and mauve so a good and varied combination.

Notes to Myself on Single Chrysanthemums

  • I over potted the plants. The roots did not spread beyond 8″. Try smaller pots.
  • I didn’t provide tlc. More watering, feeding and timely stopping next time.
  • Try planting out in the garden with other perennial plants for a late show.
  • Label any cuttings.
  • Look for a suitable single white flower.

Featuring Patio Peonies

Traditional peonies are not really suitable for growing in pots and containers.

However recently developed ‘Patio peonies’ are designed to be  suitable for the pot. They have a compact growth habit and are quite easy to flower in pot or the smaller garden!

Features of Patio Peonies

  • New patio varieties are compact and do not need staking.
  • They have upright stems capable of supporting the flowers.
  • Use for patio display or grow as cut flowers
  • Most varieties have a good strong scent to enliven your patio in early summer.
  • Flowering in various pastel shades and more traditional reds, patio peonies have the traditional papery thin, double petals.
  • Current varieties are generally named after cities like London, Moscow (red as you would expect), Rome, Athens and Madrid.
  • Plant your new Peony in a sunny location but as with other peonies not too deep.
  • Peonies don’t like to sit in water.

Miss Named Plants


How can you get the plant name so wrong?

The errors start with me miss spelling the plant name when I took the photograph at least according to Google who want to see an ‘a’ after the ‘r’ to spell Centradenia. Now I think about it, did I copy the plant label correctly or had the wrong label been attached to the plant stood on it’s own on the capillary mat at the nursery?

More likely the problem is compounded as the plant looks very similar to a Petunia and as they say ‘if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck it is a Petunia’.

Would the nursery have used such a truncated name even with an ‘a’? If Google were right then the full name should possibly be Tibouchina heteromalla “Purple Glory Bush” or similar species of the Myrtle family . Widely attractive to humming birds, of which we get virtually none in the UK.


Centradenia cascade
Centradenia grandifolia – princess flower, sea of flowers
Centradenia inaequilateralis
Centradenia floribunda
Centradenia rosea

 A relative of the more commonly grown “Princess Flower”


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